What should I do?

dhewieJuly 12, 2010

I need some advice on a troublesome lawn. The lawn was hydroseeded in fall 2008. It started out great until we had some spots yellow last summer along the driveway. I figured it wasn't getting enough water. I was pretty much watering 15 minutes every day. This year after reading more I started out watering once a week for an hour. We've had unusually hot/humid weather already starting in mid June and the spots have come back with a vengeance. From reading, I'm certain it's summer patch. Most of it happens so fast, but I did notice some areas turn gray first, then yellow. Some areas have had some grass grow back, but I can see it spreading in different areas throughout the yard. The front and side by the garage are where it's happening, all in full sun. The back and other side get good shade and are fine. A couple weeks ago I went to watering twice a week for 45 minutes, but that hasn't helped. As background, the lawn was hydroseeded (new lot) in fall 2008. It was backfilled with sand to bring it up to the street and topped with a couple inches of soil. I mulch mow to around 2.5". Digging up some spots in different areas of the yard shows 3-4 inches of good looking soil in most of the yard, though the worst spot in the middle has some spots that have mostly sand. I'm worried that the lawn is going to be gone by fall. Is there anything I can do now? And what should my plan of attack be to get rid of this? I know in the spring I noticed we have a lot of thatch already, probably from the light sprinkling last year and possibly the 3 applications of starter fertilizer in 2 months when the lawn was seeded (at the builders suggestion). I have a thatch rake that I've used a little bit so far. Should that be good enough to use in the fall or should I rent a power rake? And should I aerate also? I was thinking of aerating and overseeding after that.

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When watering a lawn you should be applying, depending on your weather, about 1 inch of water per week. How long that takes depends on how much water your sprinkling system delivers and the only way to know that is to place several straight sided containers in several places the sprinkler you use covers and measure how much time is required to get that 1 inch of water out there. Running your system one hour may be enough, may be way too little, or may be way to much.
Them you also need a good, healthy soil so the grass you have has a chance to grow.
How much organic matter is in your soil?
How well does your soil drain?
How well does your soil retain moisture?
What kind of life is in your soil?
What is your soils pH?
What is the level of available Phosporus, Potash, etc.?
These simple soil tests can be of some help

  1. Structure. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. A good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drains too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer your soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.

In addition a good, reliable soil test from you county office of the Michigan State University Cooperative Extension Service will provide you with your soils pH and nutrient levels so you can determine if the problem is nutrient related.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 7:50AM
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The best advice I have found regarding watering is to only water when the lawn needs it.... Then, when you do water -- water deeply... Putting down more water than this wastes it.

You will eventually wean the grass off of frequent watering.

2nd question -- any chance your patches along the driveway are from salt or some sort of Snow-melt product... Several of those snow melting products are known to cause some chlorosis and possibly die-offs if they end up too heavy in spots....

2nd question Corollary -- What about Dogs and Cats.... They also leave yellow spots all over the place where they pee....

3rd question -- Any idea how much seed the contractor put down? One thing I have been noticing is how heavily people seed... Of course, we all want a good thick, healthy stand... Reading the research coming out points towards most Seed bag rates advise using about 2x as much as the University Research finds is "Optimum" -- and that the extra seed just ends up causing an immature yard that is too dense.... making them disease prone....

Last is your fertilizer schedule.... I would check with the Michigan extension service to see when they advise fertilizing... My guess is that they don't advise fertilizing in Summer.... Reason is that it tends to encourage disease outbreaks... Fall and spring are the important times of the year...

You would do well to get a soil test done before adding any more Starter Fertilizer... In lieu -- maybe start trying out some of the grain meal products or Milorganite... They take longer for the soil to process -- so they don't provide that heavy BLAST of nutrients beyond what the plant can immediately process....



    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 1:25PM
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Thanks for the comments. I tried the digging a hole last night. There was about 4 inches of black soil, and then sand. I put two buckets of water in it, and both were gone within a total of about a half hour. So I'm thinking I probably need to stick with watering at least a couple times a week until the soil gets better.

As far as salt, there wasn't any salt used on the drive. We also do not have a dog. I really think it's a combination of not enough water in some areas, and too much thatch. Some areas I believe are fungus, and others, mainly close to the cement areas I think are lacking water.

As far as seed, I don't know. I don't even know what kind. I wish I would have asked. They put it down in mid September. Then they told me to put down starter fertilizer every three weeks until winter. I didn't go that far, but I think I did three applications. And even though the grass looked pretty good last year, I did notice some yellow grass interspersed in the lawn so it wasn't looking really green. So maybe too much seed, too much fertilizer, and watering every day just made it too thick.

In the ambition of going more organic, I did already use Milorganite. I used it once last fall, then I did a weed and feed in April. Then I did Milorganite in early June. I was going to wait until around Labor day since I've read not to use fertilizer in the summer, but maybe I'll go ahead and give it a try since I have the next application sitting in the garage.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 7:32PM
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That "black soil" may be something worthwhile or it may simply be something like spent foundry sand, that was used as "topsoil" years ago.
Your drainage is like mine, much too fast and that indicates your soil does not have sufficient levels of organic matter in it. Without sufficient levels of organic matter in your soil both water and nutrients flow straight through and do not feed your turf grass. While Milorganite is somewhat better then any synthetic fertilizer you could buy most all of the nutrients that could provide will still flow out of your soil with the water.
What do you do with the clippings when you mow? Do you mulch mow them back into the soil? Those clippings, if recycled, not only provide some organic matter to the soil thye also provide 1/2 the annual nutrient needs of your turf grass. What happens to the tree leaves that drop off your trees every fall? Are they mulch mowed into the soil, too, or are they diligently raked up, bagged, and sent away somewhere? Removing those leaves also removes large quantities of nutrients the trees have used as well as large quantities of organic matter the soil needs.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2010 at 7:17AM
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We were in the house when they did the lawn, so I know there was no more than 2 inches of black dirt that they put down, if that. I do mulch the grass clippings, so I'm sure that is why the black soil has doubled in two years. Unfortunately, or fortunately, however you might look at it, we don't get many leaves in the yard to mulch. Hopefully I'm attracting more earthworms as well. I know we have a pretty good crop of them in the back, especially since we've got moles. Now I just hope I can get to the moles so they don't harvest all the worms.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2010 at 7:35AM
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